With so many moving parts in our family, it’s common for one piece or another to be out of sequence. In other words, they don’t always march to the same beat. Most often, only one or two are out of orbit at a time, and only once in a while does the entire thing spring apart like a dropped clock. Continue reading
Alas, the Christmas decorations have finally come down. I know many people take them down the day after Christmas. Lots of Catholics try to leave their decorations up until the Epiphany. That is the day the Wise Men found Mary and Joseph, twelve days after the birth. While a few folks wait until just before the Fourth of July, it would seem that they feel that Christmas lights are unsuited for our nation’s birthday. The catalyst for our decoration cleanse came in the form of a one year-old.
#8, acting like a miniature Paul Bunyan, took it upon himself to topple our Christmas tree. Without an axe at hand, he laid his bare hand on it and pulled. Success, the tree had lost its balance and was on its ways down. Timber! Wait, no! With unanticipated horror, #8 realized it was falling in his direction. Before he could retreat, our little lumberjack found himself trapped by his own mischief.
Hearing the screams of #8, and the giggles of our daughters, Wife rushed into the front room to find her son lying underneath our over-decorated tree. He was squirming, screaming, and scratching his way out of his prickly prison. And when he saw his mother, his screams picked up in volume, his release was at hand.
In little time #8 had been extricated, and the Christmas decorations had been stowed away for the next year. It’s quite a change for me to leave the house in the morning covered in Christmas splendor, only to return to stacks of boxes, baskets, and bins waiting for me to store away.
For nearly ten years, I have received by-the-minute-up-dates about the children from Wife. I’ve always known, whether I wanted to know or not, when a child cut their first tooth, when they first rolled over, and when they did whatever came next. I’ve been the first Wife told for so long, that I had started to think of it as an inconvenient right of mine. And so, I would attempt to show the appropriate amount of excitement, while feeling little of it. Wife was never fooled.
After eight children, I felt I had a good idea of the flow of our babies’ development. And the other night, when the baby was about two weeks old, I realized that Wife had not yet announced that his umbilical cord had fallen off. I inquired when she thought it would happen. She responded, “Oh, it fell off days ago.”
I was shocked. What happened? Why wasn’t I told? When did I get taken off the Need-To-Know List!
Wife then said that the children had all gotten very excited when she told them.
The kids knew before me?
She said that they all “oohed” and “awed” very nicely. They peered into the empty belly-button. They squealed with pleasure. I think someone even asked if they could keep the umbilical cord. (Don’t get grossed out. Wife wouldn’t allow that.) The girls were especially excited. Wife found in her little court of young ladies, all the enthusiasm over the baby that she felt herself.
I, on the other hand, with all my external indifference, had worked myself out of a job. That was unexpected!
I’ve heard it said before that nature has a way of filling in the gaps, or that God provides whatever is needed. So, He gave Wife daughters first, to give her the help she would need. In our four girls, she found little hands to make her work lighter. Either with meals, cleaning their younger siblings, or house work, they are their mother’s big helpers. As they are growing into young ladies, they are also becoming lifetime companions for one another, as well as for their mother.
While part of me misses the attention that our girls are now getting from Wife, I am happy to see the job done properly. After all, it’s never good to try and force a square peg into a heart shaped hole.
Over forty-one weeks in the making, arriving twelve days late, with an overall weight of nine pounds and four ounces, our package finally made it home. #9 joined our clan. With his contribution, for the first time ever, the boys out number the girls. And after four girls in a row, that’s something I thought I would never say.
#9’s entrance into the world was without complications; however that is not to say it was without anxiety and a good deal of pain. He was due mid December, and Wife had all the symptoms of early labor. We were ready for his appearance at the end of November, but our boy had other ideas. Either he was very comfortable where he was, or he really didn’t want to face the world, in which case I can’t blame him. After several weeks of false labor, it continued to be false labor.
I’ve already written about how Wife had prepared for Christmas, so that when the baby came she would be able to recover without any worries about any of the Christmas details. About a week and a half before Christmas, she ran out of things to organize for the big day. Then she started to pace.
Have you ever seen a woman pace when she is over-due? She holds her belly with all the tender love and affection that makes a mother’s love incomparable. She strolls around with the comical waddle of a penguin. Her eyes dart back and forth seeking any mischief or mess-makers with the directness of a tiger. And the whole package has enough force to rival a typhoon.
At long last, after a full day of doubtful contractions, Wife’s mother made the call, she was definitely in labor. I met them at the hospital after work and thought that the twenty-third of December was a good night to have a baby. It was not quite as good as the twelfth, but it was better than the twenty-fourth. And so Wife labored into the night, until the twenty-fourth rolled around.
Yes you read right, a Christmas Eve baby. He was a great gift, but his timing was about the last thing I expected. I’ve often heard of Christmas babies, and always thought it was a bad date for a birthday. I would never do that to one of my children. I mean, what are the odds? But then my sister pointed out, “Well, the odds for your family are about one in nine.”
The wrapping was upon us. Need I say more? Ah, I see I do. Then let me explain. With all the attitude of a kingdom under assault, Wife barricaded herself in her bedroom and prepared. The scissors came out. The scotch tape came out. Finally, the Christmas paper came out. And woe to any child who attempted to enter her domain.
Gifts were laid out on the bed. She had to see them all set in rows to make sure of the proper value of each child, godchild, parent, grandparent, and an assortment of siblings. Like a merchant with his scales, she weighed each set of gifts, all the while making certain no one was under valued. If a discrepancy was found, I would receive a phone call that very moment, for here was where she and the merchant part ways.
A greedy merchant would pinch a little off of one to even the scales out, giving everyone involved a little less. Wife would hear none of that from me, for I am more the miser. She instead would add to whose ever pile was less, so I received her calls, kindly asking me to release the funds she wanted. As it was for Christmas, and for the children, I found it difficult to refuse her.
In past days she would have extended her gift piles across the entire bedroom floor. But the pregnancy stopped that this year. So her scales were confined to the bed, which made her weigh and wrap in batches, as our bed was too small to contain it all. It took her longer, but she was able to muscle through it.
In conclusion, Wife successfully had all the presents ready for Christmas well before the new baby was due to arrive. And there was only one true discomfort for me. After clearing all the wrapping off our bed, I was unable to find the scissors. For several nights after that I slept very gingerly.
We have no snow, nor any expectations of sleigh bells, or even chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Yet, our simple tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung by the fireplace with care (we can’t claim a proper chimney), and a profusion of electric lights have been strung around the house, both inside and out. In short, and to borrow the famous phrase, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”
The time of giving is upon us, and Wife takes her giving very seriously. As all her gifts are purchased and tucked safely away, she turned her eye to help our children make their presents. Let the crafts begin!
At one point, Wife went where I would dare not, the paint and brushes came out. Child-safe paint though it was, it just goes to prove her bravery and devotion to the Christmas spirit. As the art supplies came out, the children flocked around her like chicks around a hen. Even #8, though he is only one year-old, rushed the table so not to be left out.
Wife laid down the news paper on the table and began the shifts. In twos and threes she set them at the table, teaching patience to those who waited. She then furthered her instructions of patience by only allowing one color of paint to a child at a time. If #1 wanted green, she could not use blue until she had finished with the green and her brush was washed. While at the same time, if #4 wanted the green, she would have to wait for #1 to finish with it. So like a little factory of “paint-by-the-numbers”, the children steadily cycled through.
The girls pained without incident. So there is no point in relating that to you.
The boys’ performance was fair. #5 could manage pretty well on his own, as long as he didn’t get too excited. Reaching across the table, he would completely ignoring whatever was between himself and the object of his desire. #6 and #7 were each given a brush, but only after Wife had dipped them herself. And #8 was set on Wife’s lap so she could control his painting, and more importantly, what he painted.
She lightly dipped the brush in the blue, and then carefully placed it into the toddler’s hand. Ready for his overflowing enthusiasm, Wife had moved everything out of arms reach from the little boy. Nothing would get knocked over if he flailed his arms around with excitement. However, instead expressing his excitement by banging on the table, in the blink of an eye, he turned the paint brush around and chomped down on the bristles.
If I had been in Wife’s place, that would have been the end of gift making. No, that may not be true. Either I would have stopped it all out of frustration, or I would have waited to see if #8 took a second helping. Fortunately, Wife was in the Christmas spirit, and with patience unusual for this late in her pregnancy, she quickly extracted the paint brush, and then guided her baby boy until his work was finished.
So, for those who sneer at the Christmas season, who say “humbug” at the Christmas spirit, who call December a commercial endeavor; I say you are dead wrong. And to prove how Christmas inspires charity, provokes “good will toward men,” and brings out patience for all; I show you the joyful smile and blue teeth of #8, and behind him the amazingly good humor of Wife.
Merry Christmas to all!
For us Catholics, we are in the season of Advent, a season of joyful anticipation for the celebration of Christmas. And with eight small children, it is definitely full of anticipation.
I have been asked almost every night since Thanksgiving, how many days there are until Christmas, and to the children’s relief, the numbers I give have been steadily decreasing. Lately I have been questioned less. I think the reason is a string of numbered stockings that was given to us. As they are numbered one through twenty-four, they are a kind of count-down from the beginning of December to Christmas morning. So the Baby Jesus from our Nativity set is slowly making his way from stocking to stocking until on the big day when he is placed, with all the excitement of children, in the manger.
Now the girls have a special kind of anticipation. All four are old enough to have been invited to help Wife wrap the gifts intended for me. So from time to time,
I am met with a giggly little girl who tells me, “Daddy, I know what we got you fo’ Christmas.”
To which I respond, “What did you get me?”
And to show their loyalty to their mother, they say back, “I’m not tellin’.”
And I am left where I started, neither more informed nor more ignorant. But I’m about to make my own circle of secrecy. When I get Wife’s presents, I’ll also invite the four girls to help me wrap them. Then they will go to Wife, and with a smugness less than what they would show to me, they will inform their mother that they know what she is getting for Christmas. But unfortunately, unlike myself, Wife loves it. Come to think of it, this may backfire.
For Wife thrives during Advent. With saints, feast days, and Advent candles, she is in her element. I think she likes having a real reason to keep secrets from me. She claims they are “surprises.” A whole season totally devoted to “surprises!”
I like to claim my favorite holiday as the Thanksgiving weekend. The children’s is Christmas. But Wife has the whole Advent season. Leave it to the Catholic Church to give my Wife an entire season all to herself.
The evidence is piling up. No one believes me, but it has to be true. Despite all the reasoning, despite all the skepticism, there can be no other explanation. Even though Wife firmly disagrees, I must say it… there is a ghost in our house.
We have a poltergeist whose soul purpose is to torment first Wife, and then me. And it finds the most devilish ways to do it. Primarily, it wakes up the small children late at night. Under the guise of a nightmare, or a wet diaper, or cold feet, our phantom prods a baby or two awake, which in turn keeps Wife or myself awake. At times the fiend is so successful that it can ruin a night’s sleep for the both of us.
Yet, we have not been idle, no not in the least. We have continued to have children so to eventually overwhelm our phantom. And the fruit is beginning to ripen. Our older girls already calm down and put back to sleep the toddlers most of the time. #1 especially, takes care of her younger siblings; changing diapers and refilling bottles, she and #2 are a great help in securing their parents’ sleep. More and more often, we can sleep through the night, only disturbed by the new baby still growing within Wife.
But the phantom is not defeated. If it cannot keep us up with normal methods, it ushers in the flu, a most unkind trick. Wife, with all her motherly instincts, can not help but bring our sick, suffering children into our room. Normally, she mothers the child to sleep a couple of times a night, and always puts him to bed with us. He then, almost immediately turns and kicks me. The other night #7 fell prey to not only the flu, but also our fiend, who kept waking him up every hour, on the hour. It is not right for a father to have evil thoughts about his own son… but yes, I did. Oh so evil thoughts.
Luckily, flus and colds are seasonal. So our poltergeist has large parts of the year in which it has neither viruses nor bacteria in its bag of tricks. It then works overtime causing nightmares for our girls, especially #3. She has the unique disposition to get night-terrors after watching a lot of movies, due to her overactive imagination and I’m sure a little prodding from our fiend. There are few things that will get me out of bed quicker than her soft stumbling and shrill whimpers. Among its tricks, I find this one the cruelest.
Then the sun rises. In the bright, early rays our fiend retreats to whatever dark hole it dwells in, for it seems that even poltergeists need their sleep. Once the oppression of the phantom has lifted, spirits in our household also rise, and I am met with joyful children as if the night had never happened. Even when the children are sick, the morning brings them a special kind of rejuvenation. So as the happy noises of playing children steadily increases, I have a spiteful thought. I hope the phantom sleeps under the floorboards so our children can keep it awake, returning the favor.
Halloween has passed. For most people that means autumn leaves, baking turkeys, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. In short, it means Thanksgiving. But for us, it means infant diapers, pulling the infant’s clothes out of storage, cleaning out the baby tub, and transforming the diaper changing table from a catch-all back into a usable station. In short, it means the new baby is just around the corner. And as he is due at the beginning of December, Wife is concerned about getting the children’s Christmas gifts. She is determined to have her Christmas gifts bought, wrapped, and hidden by the week after Thanksgiving. Now, there is only one problem in accomplishing it that way, the children don’t know what they want.
But as they are good children, they bent their minds to the difficult task with a will. With paper and pencil they sat around the table, looking through toy magazines, and attempting to narrow down exactly what they want; and that is the hardest part of all.
I thought to help them by sitting down with a magazine and flipping through it with the children. As I did not pick out specific children to look through it with me, they all gathered around. In little time, I was surrounded by excited squeals, pointing fingers, and bumping heads. I was also unaware that their little bodies could block the light so effectively. By the time we finished, I was unsure as to what was in the magazine, but the little ones were all sure of what they saw, and quickly informed their mother so she could write it down.
The older girls were having a harder time deciding. When #1 was bent over her nearly blank paper, I could almost see the battle for wants above her head. Her head would tilt up as something caught her fancy, then something more practical or skeptical inside of her would shoot it down, like a paper airplane in a thunderstorm. The last time I checked, she had two or three things written down.
#2’s trouble was different. Her list filled a page, top to bottom. However, she was practical enough to realize she wasn’t going to get all her booty. So she leaned close, her nose nearly touching the paper, and began to insert dashes next to the items she wanted most. And when most of the items had dashes next to them, she had to revisit her list again, this time writing stars by the things she really, really wanted. And I think her list was still too long.
#3 supposedly wrote her Christmas list, but like fairies, gnomes, and President Obama’s birth certificate, no one has seen it.
Now #4 finished her list, and even showed it to me. Then she lost it, and had to start over. Then she found it. And when it was finally ready, waiting for Wife on the table, #7 discovered it, and scribbled all over it.
But in the end, the only one who truly has a say about the Christmas gifts, who truly understands the gifts, the reasons, the repercussions, is Wife. So children, be nice to you mother for the next two months.
The children all seem to pass through some mischief phase or another. With all our children, one right after the other, I would have thought that Wife and I would be able to correct any misbehavior almost before it happens. Well, it so happens that while all the children fall into the same patterns, they, very cleverly, find very different way to execute them.
Wife, now seven and a half months pregnant, waddled out to the porch like a penguin in high-gear. The screams that modulated between annoyance and terror, all stemming from the miniature lungs or #8, were the cause for Wife’s swift pace. And when she burst through the screen door, she was met with a sight that sent her temper up to match her quickening stride. The fourteen month-old, #8, was pinned down by his two year-old brother, #7, who was attempting to run over #8 with a big-wheel.
Like an avenging angel, Wife swooped in and with a blur of motion had #7 by the scruff of his shirt. He looked up with an expression of horrified amazement, as if to say, “Where on earth did you come from?” But after that he had no time for conscious thought, for he was caught in the whirlwind of his mother’s wrath; and before he knew what happened, he was whisked away in a tornado of arms and legs and left nearly spinning on his bed with the strict command to, “THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU DID!”
Wife then lifted up and comforted #8, and as he laid his head on her shoulder she turned and notice #5 and #6 for the first time. #5 piped up, “We saw him runnin’ over the baby, we saw him!” And next to his brother, #6 was nodding his head. It would have been better if he had said nothing.
Wife’s motherly instincts became indignant, and her flash-powder-temper had already been ignited. “Then why didn’t you stop HIM!”
At that point, the National Weather Service satellites recorded a second tornado blowing through my house which has taken hold of two little boys.
Here I must stop my wit for a brief moment and declare a wisdom that I had previously overlooked. The children’s bedrooms consist of bunk beds, sheets, and pillows. No toys. No books. No stuffed animals. All Wife’s design. Which means, when children are sent to bed, they have nothing to do but sit in bed… and start the crying that always accompanies discipline.
When I got home at the end of the day, all three boys were still in their beds, fast asleep, some four hours later. And bed-time-out worked. I know now #7 learned that #8 is not a speed-bump, for he has not tried to ride over him again. On the other hand, #8 keeps his distance when #7 in on his big-wheel. And #5 and #6 have learned that they are their “brothers’ keepers,” or at least they plead ignorance after the fact…